Just off of the vibrant Hope Street lies the little independent Unity Theatre and Nursing Lives was Tuesday night’s entertainment. Written and directed by Rachael Savage and performed by the Vamos Theatre Company, Nursing Lives tells the story of Flo exploring both ends of her life; from her humble beginnings as a nurse in World War Two to her older years where she is seen to reminisce about the hospital she used to work at, the people she used to meet and the love and heartbreak that has encased her life. With only four actors playing a variety of characters the story of Nursing Lives is portrayed entirely through music and expression, as large masks cover the heads of each actor.
Inspired by a news item on BBC Midlands Today about artefacts that had been discovered at on old infirmary ‘Nursing lives’ is a historic play which highlights some significant moments lived by World War Two nurses, from the careful use of penicillin pre-NHS due to its scarcity and the nurses ability to keep upbeat and joyful even though they lived among some testing times.
Photo Credit: Vamos Theatre Website
Admittedly, I didn’t know what to expect when the play began. I had never been to see a production that was based solely on music and the body language of the characters as their facial expressions were hidden. Beginning in the 1980s, the room went dark and as the solemn music began the main character Flo entered onto the stage with a flashlight, envisioning a sense of eeriness about it all. With only a bed, rusty chairs, table and curtains as props and the sudden appearance and disappearance of a figure in the corner of the room where Flo shone the light, the whole scene was like something out of a horror film. However after the windows were opened and the light shone in, it revealed the scene was in fact the hospital in which Flo worked at, and that it was going to be demolished.
Photo Credit: Vamos Theatre Website
From here the scenes change from older Flo and the builders in the 1980s to younger Flo and her life in the 1940s. As the story progresses one pivotal plot line is the romance between Johnny and Flo, from when they first meet, to their entertaining proposal in the movie theatre, to their wedding day and to the day that Johnny is called up for war. This part of the storyline brought laughter and tears to the audience as the actor Richard J. Fletcher played a perfectly clumsy but lovable Johnny whilst Sarah Hawkins portrayed a delicate young Flo.
The music played a vital part within the play as it was the voice for each of the characters. Wearing masks immediately made the ability to portray emotions difficult but nonetheless each actor’s body language underneath the music beautifully showed all the emotions that were needed for the audience to follow the story deeply and understand each characters thoughts and feelings.
Even with a small cast the contrast between all the characters was effortlessly shown, from the intimidating Matron portrayed by James Greaves to the flamboyant Usherette portrayed by Marissa Gunter. The characters and the costumes worked wonders in creating an atmospheric performance that clearly kept the audience engaged throughout.
It was clear to see, from both the laughs and whispers in the audience that Nursing Lives brought back many memories for people who have lived through the times portrayed in the play or worked in a hospital themselves. The soundtrack to the play worked beautifully within the storyline and the minimal set helped keep the focus on the characters and their emotions. The main thing that I found fascinating was the unique use of the masks as even though they did not change expression they were still powerful and effective when the cast delivered their heart-warming performance.